NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Everything remains on track for this week’s launch of Northrop Grumman’s next private Antares rocket hauling the company’s next unpiloted commercial Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS) from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility along Virginia's Eastern Shore - on a sure to be spectacular overnight blastoff Thursday Nov. 15.
Space UpClose recently took an exclusive UpClose tour of the next two Antares rockets being processed side by side inside the Northrop Grumman rocket assembly factory at Wallops known as the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF).
Enjoy our exclusive Space UpClose photo gallery of the double dose of Antares rockets slated for commercial cargo launches to the ISS on the NG-10 mission on Nov. 15, 2018 and on the NG-11 mission in Spring 2019.
We also toured the Cygnus NG-10 cargo resupply ship up close inside the H-100 cleanroom High Bay processing facility at NASA’s Wallops, that will deliver over 3.7 tons of precious science and supplies to the orbiting outpost.
Antares liftoff is scheduled for 4:49 a.m. EST on Thursday Nov. 15, 2018, roughly 2 hours before sunrise and should make for an absolutely stunning sight along the Eastern seaboard – home to America’s most densely populated region.
We observed all the main components of both the NG-10 and NG-11 booster assemblies - including both the first and second stages of Antares as well as the RD-181 engines, interstages and payload fairings.
NASA and Northrop Grumman had to do some “re-planning” of the optimum “cargo content” of the Cygnus NG-10 ISS resupply mission - in the wake of the Soyuz MS-10 crew launch failure emergency last month from Kazakhstan on Oct. 11, explained former Astronaut and 4 time space flyer Rick Mastracchio, currently senior director of Commercial Resupply Services for Northrop Grumman.
What is the Antares & Cygnus rocket processing sequence leading up to launch?
“The Antares NG-10 booster is being processed in the HIF,” Eberly explained as we toured the facility.
“Antares is in position now and has completed its integrated systems testing. The stages are mated and its ready for Cygnus to be mated. The payload fairing is ready to go.”
The HIF is a huge rocket processing facility leased from NASA located about 1 mile (1.6 km) from the Pad OA launch pad.
“We are just doing some final systems testing.”
14 story tall commercial expendable Antares launch vehicle will be launching in the upgraded and more powerful re-engined 230 configuration rocket compared to the original version.
The two stage Antares measures 139 feet (42.5 m) tall and 13 feet (3.9 m) in diameter.
It has a payload capacity of 18,000 pounds (8,000 kg) to low Earth orbit (LEO).
The core tank was designed and produced by KB Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash in Ukraine, and shipped to Wallops, explained Eberly.
“The first stage is derived from the Zenit rocket family.”
It was originally designed as liquid fueled booster for the Soviet Union’s Energia rocket.
“They are test fired by Energomash in Russia and shipped to Wallops.”
They produce about 860,000 pounds of thrust, roughly 100,000 more thrust than the original Antares 100 configuration. They are throttled down at Max Q to maintain core integrity.
The original Antares was powered by two AJ-26 (NK-33) refurbished engines whose use was discontinued following the catastrophic launch explosion of the 3rd ISS cargo flight Orb-3 for NASA on 28 October 2014 and witnessed by this author.
The Castor 30XL’s were originally built by ATK and acquired by the company then known as Orbital Sciences that then merged into Orbital ATK. It burns for about 156 seconds with approximately 107,000 pounds of thrust.
Overall Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor/integrator and responsible for integration, systems development, testing software and verification of the combined engines, core stage and avionics components to ensure they function properly and as designed for a successful launch campaign, Eberly elaborated.
“On Nov. 1 Cygnus is transported to the Wallops fueling station in a special dedicated container. After that it moves to the HIF for mating to Antares.”
“Then its removed from the container and rotated horizontally and placed on the separation system inside the HIF.”
“Cygnus is then mated to front of Antares.”
The processing team will also load the final cargo items into Cygnus after arriving inside the HIF.
“Then the rest of the final cargo load and late load items will be added after it arrives in the HIF around Nov. 1.
"We load the last cargo about three days before launch”.
"Cygnus will be mated to the booster. Finally the payload fairing will be added [to encapsulate Cygnus].”
“The payload firing is built by Northrop Grumman with a honeycomb core, composite face.”
The fairing measures 13 feet (3.9 m) in diameter and has a height of 32 feet (9.9 m).
“NG-10 is the next to last followed by NG-11 next spring under the CRS-1 contract, said Eberly.
“Northrop Grumman also has been awarded the follow-on CRS-2 contract from NASA comprising at least 6 more cargo missions.”
To date, Cygnus spacecraft have delivered more than 23,000 kilograms of cargo to the International Space Station, and removed 17,000 kilograms of disposable cargo.
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Northrop Grumman VP Antares program manager Kurt Eberly stands with Antares NG-11 booster assembly inside Horizonal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/SpaceUpClose.com